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The Magnificent Journey: Al-Israa' wal Mi'raaj
Every year, on the night of the 27th of Rajab according to the Islamic calendar (August 10th of this year 2007), Muslims around the world celebrate the magnificent journey of the Prophet Muhammad salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. They commemorate the miraculous trip the Prophet undertook to Jerusalem, the heart of the ancient world and the center of faith, and then his ascension to the seventh heaven to stand before the Divine and meet with his Lord Subhanahu wa Ta'aala.
Fourteen hundred years ago Al-Israa' wal Mi'raaj or 'The Night Journey' brought to the world something that changed the course of history.
This article is neither about discussing the validity or invalidity of this celebration, nor it is about the argument over the actual date and year this journey took place. Furthermore, it is not designed to create a narrative discussion over the details of this journey, how and what had happened there, or what the Prophet had seen there entirely. Those kinds of discussions must be done separately, and there are many opinions mentioned in books of Seerah and history regarding them. Those who have an ardent desire to explore it further can look it up there insha'Allah.
Our discussion here –from a believer's perspective- is about the essence of this journey. The subtle messages embedded with every bit of the story. Why did it happen? Why the Prophet Muhammad? Where was he taken during that journey? Why there and not somewhere else?
Why did he meet with the prophets and led them in Salat? Why did Musa salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam interfere with the divine command of Salat for the benefit of the Ummah of Muhammad?
There has been a lot of controversy amongst Muslim scholars over the factual details of this journey, but they argued little, if ever, about the actuality and the certainty of its occurrence. The incident is a fact that has been mentioned in the Qur'an and the authentic Sunnah of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
"سبحان الذي أسرى بعبده ليلا من المسجد الحرام إلى المسجد الأقصى الذي باركنا حوله لنريه من آياتنا إنه هو السميع البصير"
"Glory to ((Allah)) who did take His servant for a journey by night from the sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts we did bless, - In order that we might show Him some of Our Signs: for He is the One who heareth and seeth (All things)." Al-Israa' 17:1
The hadith of the Israa' was narrated with multiple versions in many of the various collections of Hadith, Seerah, and history books. With so many details mentioned therein, despite the questionable authenticity of some, a person can draw a clear and a vivid picture of the whole journey.
Anas narrated a hadith found in Saheeh AlBukhari, in the book of 'Beginning of Creation' (Vl. 4, book 54, hadith 429) and in Saheeh Muslim in the book of 'Iman' (Book 1, ch. 75, hadith 309)
More details were even provided in other collections of hadith with different degrees of authenticity.
Imam Ibn katheer rahimahullah in his Tafseer (see Ibn Katheer) of the beginning of surah Al-Israa'17, compiled almost all the different narrations of the hadith from more than 15 different companions
He then concluded with a quote from Al-Hafiz Abu Al-Khattab `Umar bin Dihyah from his book At-Tanwir fi Mawlid As-Siraj Al-Munir:
"Even though some reports do not fulfill the conditions of Sahih, nevertheless the Muslims agreed unanimously on the fact that the Israa' happened, and it was rejected only by the heretics and apostates.
"يريدون ليطفئوا نور الله بأفواههم والله متم نوره ولو كره الكافرون"
(They intend to put out the Light of Allah with their mouths. But Allah will bring His Light to perfection even though the disbelievers hate (it).) Al-Saaf (61:8)."
Many questions arise in the mind of any person who comes across this hadith or the story of the night journey.
To answer these questions we will highlight select parts of the story regardless of their order of events. It is worth noting this discussion on the story of Al-Israa' wal Mi'raaj is not intended to place any final judgment or form any particular opinion on any of its details. It is only an attempt to open the subject for further research and discussion.
Part One: From Makkah to Jerusalem: Why not the Heavens?
First we must distinguish between the two parts of this journey i.e. the two trips the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam made during that night: the Israa' and the Mi'raaj.
Al-Israa': The trip from Makkah to Jerusalem
Al-Mi'raaj: The trip from Jerusalem to Heavens
The English translation of the 'Israa' and Mi'raaj' is commonly simplified with the term 'The Night Journey'. But that does not make clear the two distinctive trips done during that night. Nevertheless, the term 'the night journey' still carries the literal meaning of the first trip the 'Israa'. Perhaps it can also be said that the second part of the journey the 'Mi'raaj' is understood from the same term, since it was done during the same night according to the majority of scholars.
The source of this confusion can be traced back to the translation of the name of Surah Al-Is'raa, which in the dictionary means 'the journey by night'. The word Israa' identifies the first trip and is mentioned in the first Ayah. The second trip, however, was not mentioned there but in another surah.
Besides the details of the Mi'raaj which were mentioned in many ahadith, the Qur'an also mentions it in Surah al-Najm 53: 13-18, proving its occurrence.
"ولقد رآه نزلة أخرى * عند سدرة المنتهى * عندها جنة المأوى * إذ يغشى السدرة ما يغشى * ما زاغ البصر وما طغى * لقد رأى من آيات ربه الكبرى*"
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